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1795-1871: The Pre-Park Years

history




1795-1871: The Pre-Park Years

-- The first written description of the river now known as the Yellowstone was penned.



-- David Thompson, explorer and geographer in the British fur trade of the Northwest, used the words "Yellow Stone" in notes he made while visiting Mandan villages on the upper Missouri. It is uncertain exactly how the words originated, although the canyon walls which tower over the river near its headwaters look like "Yellow Rock." (1: p.4)

-- The Lewis and Clark expedition, as they made their way through what is now Montana, heard reports of a volcano to the south which sounded like thunder and made the earth tremble. For whatever reason, they did not investigate. (2: p.18)

-- John Colter, who had traveled with Lewis and Clark, visited the area, probably the first white man to get a glimpse of Yellowstone. (1: p.35)

-- The first written account of the Yellowstone region appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, but it appears not to have been taken seriously because of the wild tales told therein. (2: p.20) Also, trapper Daniel T. Potts composed one of the earliest letters regarding present-day Yellowstone Park, in which he described the thermal features in the area. (1: p.41-43)

-- Trapper Joe Meek stumbled upon what is now known as the Norris Geyser basin area. His stories of "fire and brimstone" were met with unbelief. (1: p.43)

1830s -- Mountain man Jim Bridger began exploring the Yellowstone region. Few believed the outlandish stories of waterfalls spouting upwards and petrified "birds and trees" which he repeated over and over. (2: p.23-24)

Warren Angus Ferris, clerk of the American Fur Company, visited what is now Yellowstone Park and made a name for himself. He was the first actual "tourist" to visit the 21521x239v Yellowstone region (that is, he did so purely out of curiosity), he was the first to provide an adequate description of a geyser, and the first to apply the word "geyser" to Yellowstone's thermal features. (1: p.46-47)

Trapper Osbourne Russell, during the height of the "Trapper Era," ventured into the Yellowstone region three times, traveling the shores of Yellowstone Lake and many of the thermal areas and smaller lakes to the south of Yellowstone Lake. (1: p.49-52)

-- Another account of the Yellowstone region was published anonymously by ex-trapper Warren Ferris in the Western Literary Messenger. Ferris was the first to identify the park's thermal features as "geysers," a term which had originated in Iceland.

1850's-60's -- The struggle over slavery, the American Civil War which it led to, the immediate aftermath of that war, and skirmishes with Indians kept the United States government from sending an official exploration party to the Yellowstone region. (2: p.34)

A group of prospectors, headed by "Colonel" Walter Washington deLacy, pushed into the southern portion of Yellowstone Park, where they encountered some thermal features. A few years afterward, deLacy Lake appeared on a map of the area, until the name was changed to the present-day Shoshone Lake. (1: p.64-65)

Father Francis Xavier Kuppens, a young Jesuit priest serving near Great Falls, Montana, was guided into present-day Yellowstone Park by a group of Piegan Indians. Among other things, he visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the geysers of the Firehole Basin. Later that year, Kuppens had opportunity to describe his incredible journey to Acting Territorial Governer Thomas Francis Meagher, who at that time is credited with suggesting that is such a place of wonders did exist, it should be preserved as a national park. (1: P.89-90)

-- Frederick and Phillip Bottler became the first settlers between Bozeman and the present Park. The Bottler Ranch was at first a jumping point for hunting and prospecting. (1: p.81)

-- Three mine workers named David E. Folsom, Charles W. Cook and William Peterson set out to explore the Yellowstone region. They visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowtone, saw the teeming wildlife in the area, and experienced the geysers and boiling pools. According to their recollection, they realized the area needed to be preserved from commercialization. After returning from thei outing, Cook and Folsom wrote articles about their trip, but reputable magazine's refused to publish what they considered as unreliable stories. (1: p.91-101)

-- (Photo:   The Hayden Survey team, Red Butte, Wyoming.  Hayden is seated at the far end of the table and Jackson is standing at the far right.  Click on the photo to hear William Jackson talking about the rumors of the Yellowstone region.)   Following years of wild rumors about the Yellowstone region and on the heels of the Folsom-Cook-Peterson party, a group of gold prospectors, curious private citizens and government surveyers penetrated the Yellowstone region and beheld the truly glorious wonders of the area. Those who gazed upon the area realized the pricelessness of the region and began striving to make certain the region was preserved from development so that all Americans could have the opportunity to gaze upon and enjoy its wonders.

The party of gold prospectors included A. Bart Henderson, James Gourley, Adam Miller, Ed Hibbard and a man simply known as "Dad." They attempted to prospect for gold in the Lamar Valley area. Over the summer months they spent in the area, they had near-death encounters with buffalo, grizzlies and Indians. Although they named several natural features in the area, they were unsuccessful in regards to finding gold, and the short era of the prospector in Yellowstone Park came to an end. (1: p.81-82)




The most famous of the 1870 parties which explored the Yellowtone region was the group led by Henry D. Washburn, surveyor-general of the Montana territory. This famous Washburn party, which is credited with "discovering" Yellowstone, consisted of National Pitt Langford (the scribe of the group and later selected as the first Park Superintendent), Cornelius Hedges and Walter Trumbull (journalists who helped the nation to understand that the reality of the wonders of Yellowtone following the expedition), Truman C. Everts (the oldest of the group, he became separated from the party and hopelessly lost in the Yellowstone wildnerness for thirty-seven days as winter approached; he survived the ordeal and his incredible story helped to further arose the nation's interest inYellowstone) and First Lieutenant Gustavus Doane (a veteran of the US Calvary, he headed the military escort which accompanied the group and made an official report of the journey to US government). During the expedition, Washburn named "Old Faithful."

-- Upon hearing Langford's account of the previous year's expedetion into the Yellowstone region, Ferdinand V. Hayden, a Civil War veteran and head of the US government's new geological survey, was appointed by Congress to make an official exploration into the region. Hayden assembled a variety of geologists, botanists and zoologists as well as artist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson. The party was stunned by the wonders and beauty they saw. Moran's watercolors and Jackson's photographs were proof of the wonders. Hayden made a 500-page report to Congress, and the lobbying to make Yellowstone a national "park" began. (1: p.141-155)

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1872-1915: Early Years of Yellowstone

-- On March 1, President Ulysses Grant signed into existence the world's first national park -- Yellowstone Park. The 2.2 million acres of wilderness was set aside for "the benefit and enjoyment of the people." Nathaniel Langford, one of the most outspoken proponents of the national park idea, was appointed the first superitendent of the Park. He was immediately assigned the task of making a "thorough exploration" of the Park, and decided to make his investigation as a guest of the Hayden Survey party, which was returning to Yellowstone for further research. Langford thus spent a memorable summer in the newly commissioned Yellowstone Park. (1: p.172-192)

-- The nation and governement leaders sought to grapple with the "national park" issue and that which it entailed. The Yellowstone region was visited by the few fortunate who could afford to make the trip and were hearty enough to brave the elements of the great outdoors. Opportunists sought to take advantage of the attraction of Yellowstone Park. (2: p. 58-59) Read about the involvement of Jay Cooke and the Northern Pacific Railway.

-- President Chester Arthur took a camping tour of Yellowstone, brought Yellowstone Park to a new level of awareness among the nation's citizens. The nation became concerned that opportunists were exploiting the Park. (1: p.277-282) The National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs was built. The massive structure was 414 fee long. It lost money from the beginning, and only existed for a short period of time. (1: p.272-273)

-- The Secretary of the Interior came to realize the hopelessness of trying to keep opportunists from ruining the Park in the face of recent Park superintendents who appeared unconcerned about vandalism and poaching. The Interior department asked the US Army to intervene, and Yellowstone came under military jurisdiction, which gradually brought order back into the Park. (2: p.59) Also, Lt. Daniel C. Kingman conceived of the so-called "Grand Loop" which became the main roadway through the Park.

-- The Lake Hotel near Yellowstone Lake and the Fountain Hotel near Old Faithful were built. The former was not destined to last. (2: p.60)

-- The Lacey Act was passed by Congress, giving full protection to wildlife in Yellowstone Park (except wolves and coyotes) and paving the way for future wildlife and environmental movements. (2: p.60)

A "Winter Expedition of 1894" set out to count and photograph the number of bison:

"The party consisted of Captain Scott, Lieut. Forsyth, Scott Burgess, Robert Burns, Photographer Haynes, and three non-commissioned officers.  On Norwegian skis, with packs of sleeping bags, provisions and camera, they proceeded directly to the Hayden Valley via Norris and the Grand Canyon.  They found eighty-one buffaloes in the valley, seventy-three in one herd; and numerous groups of elk ...

The second day they discovered the "cache" of a poacher, very much to their surprise.  It consisted of a canvas tepee, sleeping bag, provisions and tobaggan and six buffalo heads suspended in a tree.  A trace of fire in the tepee led them to believe that the poacher was in the vicinity, and to capture him was the next move.  Some five miles from camp they heard five or six rifle shots in rapid succession.  Hastening through the timber to an opening they came directly upon the poacher.  He had driven six of the buffaloes into the deep snow and slaughtered them all.  Fortunately, it was snowing hard, and the approach of the scout was not noticed by the poacher or his dog until the arrest was made.  He was taken to the Lake Hotel and from there to the guard house at Fort Yellowstone.  In addition to the twelve buffaloes that were killed by this poacher a small herd of seven was seen in the Pelican Creek country, making less than 100 in the Park.  Elk were seen in great numbers in the foothills of Mount Washburn, on Specimen Ridge, along the east fork of the Yellowstone, on Slough Creek and the Yellowstone River to Mt. Everts.  Small bands of mountain sheep, deer and antelopes were seen on Mt. Everts.  The open water of the Yellowstone between the lake and falls was alive with ducks and swans.  Red foxes and coyotes were numerous and an occasional black fox and footprints of mountain lines and bears were seen.  The party in about thirty days traveled over 300 miles." (As recounted in Hayne's Guide)



Official yearly visitor counts began. 5,438 people visited Yellowstone this year.

-- Mr. and Mrs. Louis Bird visited Yellowstone. Read their journal

-- The original Fishing Bridge is built by engineer Hiram Chittenden.  The name Fishing Bridge was applied to it in 1914.

-- President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yellowstone and was awed at the beauty and wildness of the Park. By now, the railroads were catering to Yellowstone tourists, taking visitors by the carloads to the Park. (2: p.60)

-- The most famous stucture in Yellowstone, the Old Faithful Inn, was built. The unique building was constructed of native logs and built during the winter season.

-- Between Old Faithful and Spring Creek Canyon, one bandit successfully held up sixteen vehicles and robbed the occupants. (6: p.115)

-- The Canyon Hotel was built on the rim of the Canyon, constructed during the winter season. It has since burned down. (2: p.60)

-- National Geographic magazine did a feature story on America's National Parks. It recommended that the visitor take 5 1/2 days to see the Park.

-- The first automobile passed through the gates of Yellowstone Park - a Model T Ford. (2: p.62)

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1916-1971: The Age of the Automobile

-- President Woodrow Wilson signed into existence a new government agency, the National Park Service, forever changing the administration of our national parks. (2: p.64)

Only two years after the first automobile entered the Park, some 5000 entered Yellowstone during the summer season. (5: p.622)

-- With order restored in Yellowstone, the remnants of the Army force which had policed the Park were withdrawn by the government.

-- Some 5000 automobiles entered Yellowstone Park.

-- Yellowstone celebrated it's golden anniversary. Dozens of national magazines did feature stories on the Park throughout the year.  Ceremonies commemorating the Semi-Centennial year of the establishment of the park were held on July 14, 1922, at the foot of National Park Mountain near the junction of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers where in 1870, in the camp of the famous Washburn-Langford expedition, the "National Park idea" was born.   Mr. C.W. Cook of the Cook-Folsom expedition of 1869 attended in person.  Mr. Cornelius Hedges, Jr., and W.A. Hedges planted an evergreen tree to mark the spot where their father stood in 1870 when he proposed making this unequaled region a national park.   Public officials and prominent friends of the park were on the program.   Superintendent Horace M. Albright made a short address re-counting the historical development of the park, and read telegrams from President Warren G. Harding, Hon. Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior, Hon. Stephen T. Mather, Director of the National Park Service, and other high officials. (As recounted in the Hayne's Guide)

The Grand Loop Road was named by Harry W. Frantz, a nationally-known writer.

-- Charles A. Lindbergh barnstormed over Yellowstone Park in September, only months after his historic transatlantic flight. Also, telephone exchanges were installed in the Park. (5: p.269)

The east boundary and northwest corner of the Park were enlarged, one of two times that the Park has been enlarged (see also 1932).

-- The Norris Geyser Basin museum opened as one of the first trailside museums in the park.

1930s -- The famous Beartooth Highway was built, allowing automobiles to travel 67 steep, winding miles from Red Lodge, Montana into the Park via the towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate.

A winter wildlife grazing area near the North Entrance was added to the Park boundaries.



On February 9, the all time lowest temperature in Yellowstone is recorded: 66 degrees below zero at the Riverside Station.

Yellowstone Park Service Stations began operation.

-- A travel study by the Wyoming State Highway Deparment determined that the value of park traffic to the local economy was an estimated $19 million.  This led to an awareness of Yellowstone's recreational business potential. (1: vol 2, p. 373)

-- The State of Wyoming, following the 1951 travel study, sought to purchase Yellowstone's concessions.  Opposition by Montana and Idaho prevented the passage of this piece of legislation.  Also, Mission 66, a massive effort to expand Yellowstone's roads, trails, visitor facilities and employee facilities, was begun. (1: vol 2, p. 373f)

1950s -- Canyon Village was constructed to keep up with the rising tide of visitors.  Also, Park officials, fearing there were too many elk in Yellowstone, reduced the herd during the decade. (1: vol 2, p. 376f)

-- The Park stopped its policy of stocking park waters for fisherman. (1: vol 2, p. 381)

-- A massive earthquake to the west of Yellowstone killed 28 people and set off such geyser activity in the Park as had never been observed before.

-- The Park Service turns to "natural management" in regards to Yellowstone's wildlife. (5: p.286)

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Yellowstone: The Second Century

1970s -- Attention slowly began turning from viewing Yellowstone as a recreational playground to viewing Yellowstone as an ecological treasure which needed to be preserved and protected for future generations.

-- Yellowstone celebrated its 100th anniversary.  The First World Conference on National Parks is held.

-- Fishing is prohibited from Fishing Bridge in order to protect the spawning of the native cutthroat trout.

-- Yellowstone was designated as a Biosphere Reserve, in recognition of its ecological value.

-- Yellowstone was designated as a World Heritage Site, in recognition of its ecological value.

-- The worst fire season in Yellowstone's history took place.  "The Fires of 1988" burned some 1.4 million acres in the Yellowstone ecosystem between June and October.  25,000 firefighters and $120 million dollars did little to stop the massive flames.

-- As Yellowstone's fire policies continued to come under immense criticsm, the Park already displayed signs of recovering from the fires as wildflowers arose in profusion from the blackened ground.

1990s -- Controversy over the increasing winter use of Yellowstone raged ever louder.   Pollution levels from snowmobile emissions in Yellowstone at peak times are measured as being greater than the pollution levels in Los Angeles.  Also, attempts to study Yellowstone's microorganisms increase.  In addition, Yellowstone increasingly comes under attack from ultra-conservative politicians who want to exploit Yellowstone's natural resources for economic gain.  As a part of the effort to "subdue" Yellowstone, they are successful in blocking new funding for Yellowstone, leading to budget cuts and a plethora of backlogged projects which cannot be completed.

-- Wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone ecosystem.  Also, Yellowstone becomes listed as a "World Heritage Site in Danger."

-- The proposed development of a gold mine just outside the Park's northeast boundaries threatened the Yellowstone ecosystem.  President Clinton visited Yellowstone and announced a plan to keep the gold mine from being developed.  Norris Campground closed because of a lack of available funds.

-- During the winter months, some 1100 bison were killed by the Montana Department of Livestock because some of them carried a disease called brucellosis which ranchers feared could be transmitted to domestic cattle in the area.  On a more positive note, Yellowstone celebrated its 125th anniversary all year long, with the main event being at Old Faithful in August.

-- Steamboat Geyser erupted for the first time in a number of years, much to the delight of geyser gazers.  Fires once again threatened Yellowstone National Park and garnered national attention.  However, the fires did much less damage than in 1988, and remained in the backcountry.  In addition, Yellowstone officials announced intentions to ban or restrict snowmobiles from the Park as the Winter Use Controversy raged unabated.





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